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Proofreading: The Stepchild of Writing and Editing



Oh, how dull.  Yes, proofreading can seem somewhat dull—and even tedious.  But it’s enormously important.  Along with excellent writing and sharp editing, it is truly the path to professionalism.  And there is no shortcut.  No matter what you’re writing, no matter what you’re trying to sell, there is absolutely no room for error when it comes to common mistakes and inadvertent typos.


Do it well and thoroughly, and you’ll instill confidence in your readers.  Do it poorly, and you’ll invite questions about your very competence and the quality of your product or service.  So, as you can see, proofreading, in a nutshell, is all about polishing and perfecting your message and your image. 

It’s the mandatory last step before publication and comes only after everything has been written and carefully edited.  Proofreading is often confused with editing, but they are really quite different processes.  Editing is all about being targeted and concise in your communications, whereas proofreading is about correcting errors—whether they’re dangling participles or words that were dropped in a cut and paste operation.


The interesting thing about proofreading is that it’s deceptively hard to do because once you become familiar with your own writing, it’s easy to skip over the content you’re reading because you have developed such a familiarity with it.  This is because you, as the writer and editor, already know what the text is supposed  to say.  For this reason, the mind tends to read the intent, rather than the actual sequence of words, which is what proofreading does.


That’s why it’s referred to as the “stepchild” in the “Big Three” of writing, editing, and proofreading.  As a final step in the process of creating content, though—for anything you write, whether it’s your website text or a business report or your online dating profile—proofreading is your insurance against last minute mistakes.

Poor spelling and incorrect grammar can make you appear to be sloppy and unprofessional, no two ways about it.  Of course, everyone makes mistakes, but these types of mistakes can be very  costly when it comes to your credibility—and that can definitely mean lost business.

Unfortunately, using Spell Check is simply not enough.  It’s a good starting point, but it won’t pick up correctly spelled words that are in the wrong place or common errors such as “their” instead of “they’re.”  And sometimes it’s even dead wrong! I’ve come across many instances when Spell Check either flags something as incorrect (when I know it is not), or it fails to catch something obvious because a particular word is not in its dictionary.


As I mentioned earlier (and you probably already know from past experience), it’s very, very difficult to proofread your own writing because you are the one who is most thoroughly aware of what your writing is trying to convey, and your mind tends to read for meaning—to see if you can improve upon it—rather than to read for errors such as “its” and “it’s.” 

This is why you always—always—need a second pair of eyes—reading just for errors, not content.

And another good rule to stick to when it comes to getting out new copy of any kind—for any purpose—is to always take a break from it first before you hit “Send” or upload it to your website.  In fact, it’s actually preferable to “sleep on it.”  Waiting inevitably freshens your mind and allows you to see things in a different light, so never rush your copy into publication.  And never, ever neglect to proofread.  I can promise you’ll regret it if you do!


Denver Business Editor | Boulder Business Editor